An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a piece of software that automates the recruitment and hiring workflow from the moment a new position is opened to the moment the hire is selected.

An ATS stores all applications, attachments, and the messages that come with them. By providing a central place to manage and access information about open jobs and all the data submitted by the applicants, an ATS can significantly reduce the time and costs of hiring.

An ATS is now widely accepted as a more effective alternative to spreadsheets and is used by companies of all sizes. Besides recruiters and hiring managers, other employees can also be given access to make hiring decisions more easily.

Advantages of an ATS

In short, the major advantages of an ATS are:

  • Automating repetitive tasks in the recruitment workflow
  • Giving a quick overview of the process and the applicants
  • Providing a simple collaboration platform

It is important to know that an ATS is unable to fix a broken workflow: it works best when a company is clear about its expectations and what recruitment process it wants to automate.

Overall, there are some typical tasks an ATS helps to perform more effectively:

  • Creating and distributing job adverts with built-in templates and pre-selected job boards
  • Channelling in all applications coming through the job boards, the company career page, and email
  • Filtering out irrelevant applications based on keywords
  • Overviewing the recruitment process by a dashboard showing application statistics
  • Shortlisting the candidates to interview
  • Searching for applicant information
  • Sorting the relevant applications according to certain criteria
  • Keeping track of all communication with an applicant
  • Collaborating to make a hiring decision
  • Building a talent pool
  • Tracking the performance of the recruitment process

These basic tasks are often completed by other functions, such as templates for creating a corporate career page or the integration of social channels for sourcing or collaboration purposes.

Different types of ATS’s

An ATS can be categorized by the physical location of the application, its complexity, or its focus.

As for the location, today’s applicant tracking systems are almost exclusively cloud-based, only a few is installed on corporate premises. So an ATS is basically offered as Software-as-a-Service: for a monthly or yearly subscription fee, companies get access to the software for a certain amount of users.

This makes budgeting and maintenance easier while offering the opportunity to scale by adding more contributors as needed. Some ATS’s with basic functionality are even free, though there is always a fee for publishing job adverts on third-party services.

Based on complexity, an ATS can be a standalone application or integrated with other human resources information systems, such as payroll, compliance, or training. The decision is best made if based on the company’s individual needs, rather than vendors’ interests or cost savings. Furthermore, no matter how complex the system must be, ease of use should still be a basic demand.

The third type of ATS-categorization is based on what part of the recruitment process is in focus. Some are stronger in sourcing, allowing recruiters to easily find candidates on social media. Others make collaboration easier by making the interface comprehensible for a wider audience. There are ATS’s that facilitate interviews with special tools or have advanced reporting functions for easier compliance.